H.P. Saunderson & Co. / Saunderson & Gifkins / Saunderson & Mills / Saunderson Tractor & Implement Co., Elstow Works, Bedford, England
Crossley Motors, Manchester, England
Saunderson Model G tractor from 1919 catalogue
Herbert Percy Saunderson was born in 1869 in Bedfordshire, England, where he trained as a blacksmith. After time spent in Canada as a farmer and fur-trapper, he returned home to Bedfordshire and established himself as an agent for the Canadian Massey-Harris company, operating from a small workshop behind his house in Kempston. Saunderson also began to build a range of his own equipment including windmills, pumps and weed clearing machinery, and in the late 1890s he developed a self-propelled vehicle. This was a light goods truck powered by a single-cylinder 6.5 x 10in engine that could run on either gas or petrol, with chain drive to the rear wheels and two forward speeds. Saunderson entered it in a trial of self-moving vehicles organized by the Royal Agricultural Society in 1898, but unfortunately it experienced engine problems and failed to complete the course. In 1900, Saunderson opened the Elstow Works in Bedford and began to turn his attention to tractors.
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The first Saunderson tractor appeared in 1904 - this was a two-wheeled machine that was intended to be coupled to various horse-drawn implements. This was followed a few years later by the first Saunderson "Universal Motor", a 45-50 hp tractor with three equal-sized wheels and all-wheel drive. In 1907, one such tractor was awarded a gold medal at the Italian Government trials at Piacenza, Italy. A 1908 catalogue listed three different models of "Universal Motor", including two different four-wheeled machines that were equally at home on the road and in the field, thanks to a removable lorry body. Saunderson was also moving into the export market, with "Universal Motors" being shipped as far afield as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
By 1910 the company name had changed to Saunderson & Gifkins, with a new partner providing much-needed financial support. Although the earlier designs were still being offered, several new tractors were also introduced, ranging from the little Model L with a single-cylinder air-cooled engine and removable transport body to the huge Model V with a four-cylinder power unit developing around 50 hp. In 1912 a new partner, Mr J. Gawler Mills, was found and the company name was again changed to Saunderson & Mills. It was around this time that the Model G tractor appeared, which was to prove Saunderson's most successful and long-lived model - one of these took first place in the agricultural trials at Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1913. By the First World War, Saunderson had become the largest tractor manufacturer outside the United States, and Saunderson tractors were being used on every continent.
Batch of Model G tractors for the British Board of Agriculture
The final and most significant change to the tractor range came in 1916, when the design was completely overhauled - the most obvious changes were the repositioning of the driver's seat to the rear of the tractor, allowing a better view of trailed implements, and the radiator to the front. The same year, King George V chose to purchase a Model G tractor, plough and fuel/water wagon for use on his Sandringham estate in Norfolk, which provided excellent publicity for Saunderson. The company's tractors were also used on the Prince of Wales's estate in Cornwall. In 1917 an order for 400 Model G tractors and ploughs was placed by the British Board of Agriculture, providing a massive boost for Saunderson. Around this time Mr Mills left the firm, and the name changed once again to the Saunderson Tractor & Implement Co.
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Nevertheless, the emergence of the Fordson tractor and problems with the export market following the First World War caused problems for Saunderson, and the Model G began to look rather dated. A 1919 brochure shows a slimmed-down range of just three models that were almost identical in appearance. An agreement was reached for the post-war range of tractors to be built in France under the SCEMIA name. A 12-20hp "Super Light-Weight" tractor with V-twin engine was also introduced in 1923, but met with little success, while another small tractor design with a more conventional engine, the Saunderson "Junior", does not seem to have progressed beyond the prototype stage. The following year, Herbert Saunderson took the decision to sell the tractor business to Crossley Motors of Manchester, who had already been supplying the engines for Saunderson tractors for a number of years. Saunderson stayed on in a consultancy role for a year, before retiring to an estate in Bedfordshire with several of his tractors. Crossleys continued to market the Model G for a few more years with their own name on the radiator, but with little commercial success.
H.P. Saunderson & Co. Type A (click on image to enlarge)
The Type A was a three-wheeled machine with equal-sized wheels and all-wheel drive. It was powered by a four-cylinder engine of Saunderson's own design with a bore and stroke of 6in x 6in running at 600-800rpm and producing 45-50bhp. Ignition was via trembler coil, but a magneto could be provided at extra cost. The tractor had three speeds both forward and reverse of approx. 2.5, 3.5 and 7 mph. The drive gears were protected by pressed steel and the spring were provided for driver comfort. A tubular radiator with fan in front belt driven from the forward-mounted pulley was used for cooling. The tractor had a passenger seat on the opposite side to the driver and a load-carrying platform at the rear which could be removed as required. The Type A later became known as the Model U with minor modifications.
The Type B was similar in appearance to the Type A, but with four wheels rather than three and a slightly smaller engine of 5 x 6 in bore and stroke developing 30-35bhp. Only the rear wheels were driven while the front wheels steered. A larger load-carrying platform was provided at the rear than on the Type A, and the wheels could also be supplied with smooth tyres for road-haulage use. Standard wheels with removable bolt-on strakes were provided for general-purpose use.
This was a narrow-gauge version of the Type B with a track width of 4 feet, intended for working in sugar cane and other plantations.
A new model for the June 1910 Saunderson & Gifkins catalogue was the "Little Universal Motor" Model L, a 6-7bhp machine weighing just over a ton and powered by a single-cylinder air-cooled engine with 5.25 x 6in bore and stroke. A special hinged single-furrow plough was advertised as well as a matched threshing machine to be driven from the tractor's belt pulley. As with earlier models, a removable lorry body allowed the Model L to be used equally well for road transport purposes. The seating position was now right at the front of the tractor, with all the controls within easy reach.
Also described as a "Little Universal Motor", the 12-14bhp Model F was the big brother to the Model L and very similar in appearance. This time though a two-cylinder water-cooled engine was fitted with a large radiator at the rear of the tractor. Initially the seating position on the Model F was located at the front of the tractor, but this was later moved to the right-hand side.
The Model K was completely different in appearance from the previous two. Described as a 25-30bhp machine, it used a four-cylinder 5 x 6in engine that was centrally mounted, with the driver's position to the right of this and a honeycomb radiator in front. It also had Saunderson's advanced three-point suspension, which allowed it to pass over the roughest of terrain, and a differential lock for the rear wheels.
Saunderson & Gifkins Model V (click on image to enlarge)
The Model V was Saunderson's flagship model and had a rating of 45-50bhp. It used a four-cylinder 6 x 8 in engine. The Model V seems to have been one of the most popular export models, as photos show them being worked in such diverse places as Russia, West Africa and New Zealand, and it was also marketed by several companies in central and eastern Europe.
An updated version of the Type C listed in the 1910 catalogue, and offered with a special plough and hinged rear-mounted cultivator.
Updated version of the Type B fitted with the same honeycomb radiator as the Model K and V.
Slightly modified form of the earlier Type A.
The first version of the most successful and long-lived Saunderson tractor, the 20bhp Model G, appeared around 1911 as part of the Saunderson & Gifkins range. The first version was almost identical to the improved Model F, and used a two-cylinder T-head engine mounted crossways on the chassis in the middle of the tractor. The driver sat slightly forward and to the right of this, which gave good visibility to front and rear, allowing him to see past the large radiator and fuel tank assembly positioned above the back wheels. A sizeable toolbox was provided at the front of the tractor, a feature that was to become a signature of Saunderson tractors, and a full length canopy was also an option. This design was carried over to the Saunderson & Mills range, but by 1915 a few changes had taken place - the operator's seat and controls had been moved to the front of the engine, drive gears were now fully enclosed to protect them from dirt, and the toolbox was now vertical rather than flat. Very soon afterwards though, the Model G received its final and most drastic overhaul, which is described separately below.
Updated version of the Model V with a number of improvements such as repositioning the radiator at the rear of the tractor.
Updated version of the Model K with minor modifications.
This was almost identical to the forward-control Model G, but with half the rated power. It was described in the 1915 Saunderson & Mills catalogue as a little "knock about" of the farm that was suitable for pairing with a two-furrow plough, 6ft binder or cultivator, or two mowers. On the road, it could pull a load of 2-3 tons.
Model G (rear-steer)
Saunderson & Mills Model G (click on image to enlarge)
The final configuration of the Model G emerged in 1916 and featured what was to become the conventional layout for a tractor: radiator at the front, engine and gearbox in the middle, and driver's seat at the Initially listed under the Saunderson & Mills name, it was a 23hp machine with a two-cylinder L-head engine with 5.5 x 8 in bore and stroke and that normally ran at 750rpm. Three forward speeds and one reverse were provided and gears were selected using a pair of handlebar-like levers on either side of the steering wheel. Power was transmitted via a friction-type clutch and enclosed final-drive gears. Inside one of the rear wheels was a differential that could be locked with a pin and a winding drum and cable for hauling. The front axle and driver's seat were sprung and the tractor had Saunderson's patent three-point suspension. Cooling was via a tubular radiator, fan and thermosyphon method.
With the renaming of the firm as the Saunderson Tractor & Implement Co. towards the end of the First World War, the only change seems to have been the replacement of the small brass or aluminium maker's plate on the radiator with a larger cast iron one. The appearance of the "Improved Post-War Model G" in 1919, however, saw the header tank modified again to include the company name in large cast lettering and other changes to the manifold, fuel tank and engine. The following year the radiator was changed yet again, this time to a lower honeycomb design with the "Saunderson" name painted on. The engines for the tractors were now built by Crossley Motors rather than the National Gas Engine Co. The magneto was also changed from a Thomson-Bennett to a Hills Bros. type. With the takeover by Crossley Motors in 1924, the Saunderson name on the radiator and fuel tank sides was replaced by the Crossley one.
Model J (rear-steer)
This was similar in appearance to the Model G, but was rated at 10-12hp and used a single-cylinder engine. The tractor was also narrower and had smaller wheels.
Model B (rear-steer)
A slightly larger version of the Model G, this time rated at 30-32hp. The most obvious external differences were the lower radiator (as on the Model G after 1920) and larger fuel tank.
Type T "Super Light-Weight"
With its fully-enclosed 20hp V-twin engine, height of 4ft 4in and 42in rear wheels, the Super Light-Weight tractor was a radical departure from previous models. It also featured Saunderson's patented design of combined engine and gearbox using roller bearings, and was fitted with a water pump and impulse magneto. With 12hp available at the drawbar and two forward speeds, it was advertised as capable of pulling a two-furrow plough in any soils and a three-furrow one under suitable conditions.
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H.P. Saunderson & Co. Model A (serial no. 142) at the Pioneer Settlement Museum, Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia in 2007.
Saunderson & Gifkins Model F (serial no. 403) at the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT), Auckland, New Zealand in 2006.
Saunderson & Gifkins Model V (serial no. 451) on the South Island, New Zealand in 2006.
Saunderson & Mills Model G (serial no. 553) at the Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery Museum, Geraldine, New Zealand in 2006.
Saunderson & Mills Model G (serial no. 687) at Woolpit Steam Rally, Suffolk, England in 2009.
Saunderson & Mills Model G (serial no. 1100) at the Bedfordshire Steam and Country Fayre, Old Warden Park, Bedfordshire, England in 2006.
Saunderson & Mills Model G (serial no. 1116) at Onslow Park Rally, Shropshire, England in 2005.
Saunderson & Mills Model G (serial no. 1120) at Woolpit Steam Rally, Suffolk, England in 2009.
Saunderson & Mills Model G (serial no. 1131) at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, Dorset, England in 2010.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1166) at the Stapehill Abbey Museum sale, Dorset, England in 2006.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1197) at Bicton Park, Devon, England in 2006.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1336) at the World of Country Life, Exmouth, Devon, England in 2012.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1388) at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, Dorset, England in 2002.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. unknown) at Woolpit Steam Rally, Suffolk, England in 2009.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. unknown) with Saunderson three-furrow plough at Breamore Countryside Museum, Fordingbridge, Hampshire, England in 2012.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1477) with Saunderson water and fuel wagon at the Bedfordshire Steam and Country Fayre, Old Warden Park, Bedfordshire, England in 2006.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. unknown) at the Little Casterton Working Weekend, Lincolnshire, England in 2007.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1678) owned by Geoff Parfitt, Devon, England and photographed in 2008.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1801) at Woolpit Steam Rally, Suffolk, England in 2009.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1830) at Woolpit Steam Rally, Suffolk, England in 2009.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1882) at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, Dorset, England in 2002.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1909) with Saunderson water and fuel wagon at Woolpit Steam Rally, Suffolk, England in 2009.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 1923) photographed in a private collection in the UK in 2013.
Saunderson Model G (serial no. 2030) at the Little Casterton Working Weekend, Lincolnshire, England in 2006.
Saunderson Type T "Super Light-Weight Tractor" (serial no. 3044) at the Bedfordshire Steam and Country Fayre, Old Warden Park, Bedfordshire, England in 2006.
Crossley Model G (serial no. 2158) at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, Dorset, England in 2005.
I would like to thank Saunderson historians, David and Andrew Seeley, for their extensive help with compiling the information on this page.
Copyright © 2006-2017 David Parfitt. All rights reserved.